We all are individual snowflakes.
Our identities are unique, enhanced by our various shapes, sizes, thoughts, beliefs and whether we say “soda” or “pop.” Our backgrounds and histories ground us and help us become the people we are today.
But the winter that forges us doesn’t last forever. The climate from which we create our individuality ebbs and flows like seasonal temperatures as we grow and are exposed to the world. What makes us different in winter inevitably changes come spring, when snow melts and we find ourselves less an individual snowflake and more a drop of water, careening toward everyone else, where we join together as a flowing mass.
As beer drinkers, our tastes are personal but were still part of the larger group – the beer-drinking community. As a single person, we are able to determine our own shape and preferences, but it’s hard to shake the pull of others.
Last week, I took part in a shoot for Brew Dogs, the Esquire TV show featuring Scottish brewers James Watt and Martin Dickie. They visited Durham, NC to film an episode in which they wanted to brew the most “calorific beer ever.”
I wanted to be a part of the shoot to support Durham and Fullsteam, my favorite, local brewery, who hosted the eclectic pair. As I left, I had a feeling an event like this – by no fault of James, Martin or Fullsteam – can cause our beer-loving, individual snowflakes to melt.
James and Martin are on stage, addressing the audience
*paraphrased and not actual quotes*
“We’ve made the best, one of a kind beer possible!”
AUDIENCE ERUPTS IN CHEERS
“It’s a 12 percent imperial stout”
AUDIENCE CHEERS LOUDER
“We brewed it with a gallon of maple syrup, two pounds of smoked bacon and ice cream, then turned half the batch into ice cream and we’re serving it as a beer float with a piece of bacon on it and drizzles of maple syrup!”
CROWD BEGINS RIOTING
*there was no actual rioting, but lots of yelling and cheering*
The beer, Maple Bacon Ice Cream Imperial Stout, was a smash hit:
Like me, I know there were many who attended the event because they wanted to show support for their community. But there were also many who attended for the beer, or to be on TV, or to achieve some intrinsic status symbol, buoyed by the number of Tweets, Instagrams and Untappd check-ins that were compiled within moments of the beer getting into our hands. It was tangible exclusivity.
Thinking back to the BrewDogs shoot yesterday, it made me think of the insanity of Cigar City’s (final) Hunahpu Day:
… all because people couldn’t get their beer.
These two events are not the same. But they do occur within the same world of beer we’ve created, where specialty beers are revered and people lose their minds to be among the few who try them. Judge not, that ye be not judged … I am also guilty of this.
I worry what this means, as craft beer becomes more of the norm and behaviors become routine. We expect brewers to provide these kinds of experiences and even worse, I fear, we’re starting to expect these reactions from each other.
What is our expectation of beer today?
Breweries are not setting examples of mass hysteria for us to follow. Yes, they’re complicit in organizing events, but they’re simply supplying the product. Brewers offer the medium and we’re delivering the message.
What we’ve seen in recent days, months and the past couple years is that the message is muddled.
During the BrewDog shoot, James and Martin encouraged interacting with the beer to properly sense aromas and tastes. They specifically asked the audience to turn to each other and openly discuss impressions of the beer. They wanted eyeballs to move from cell phone screens and make contact with other human beings.
But that didn’t last long and the group was back to taking selfies, hoisting the new beer toward the sky like a trophy.
When we stand at the alter of beer worship, it’s becoming like a game of telephone. The brewers say something to us, trying to explain why their beer is unique and more importantly, why we should savor it together. But as it gets passed from one person to the next, that message gets distorted. Finally, it reaches an end point where new words and meaning have changed the scripture we follow.
Breweries are trying to act as tributaries that set our path, but we’re quickly becoming a wave eroding what’s ahead of us, spurred onward by the rush of expectations of what a collective mass believes a culture should be. The truth is, we probably still don’t know.
Let’s have a conversation about this – how do you feel the craft beer audience is changing?
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac